Today a group of MPs led by John Penrose MP and Bob Blackman MP will sponsor a ‘Presentation Bill’ to allow the Secretary of State to enact secondary legislation empowering local communities to vote on their own housing design and density rules.
The proposals would allow trials of community-led solutions such as those outlined in Strong Suburbs—endorsed by six MPs, two QCs, the chairman of CPRE London, the Community Planning Alliance and used by CPRE in responses to local plans.
This would extend the popular existing system of neighbourhood planning, allowing streets to adapt and add more living space if the community wishes, and alleviating housing shortages in urban areas.
Locals would decide what additional development and what it looks like, as a supplement to the existing planning system. They would get the lion’s share of the financial and other benefits from such development, with contributions to local authorities and the broader community.
The proposal complements the Government’s proposed planning reforms, and takes the heat and conflict out of any local developments or regeneration plans which are launched using the new powers, because they will – by definition – already have local community support in advance. This pre-booked local consent will make it easier and faster to build new homes, so housing becomes more affordable for local people, and pressure on greenbelt land is reduced.
The legislation, inspired by housing think tank Create Streets’s paper From NIMBY to YIMBY, and using the mechanisms outlined in Policy Exchange’s Strong Suburbs, has been endorsed by a huge range of architects, planners, economists, activists, housing associations, politicians, and civil society groups. It is designed to give people the powers they need to improve their own streets when and where they decide, helping alleviate the UK’s housing shortage without building towers or concreting over the countryside.
These reforms could encourage a shift to kinds of buildings that are more popular with local communities, by empowering residents to opt into forms of development from which they would benefit. While many residents will prefer to maintain the existing character of their street, in some urban areas, the land value uplift associated with greater density and traditional urban design will lead some streets to opt to allow gentle increases in density with strict design rules, especially where demand for more housing is highest.
Examples from other countries show that policies giving locals control of development can add hundreds of thousands of homes when locals also benefit.
The proposals, which are being considered by the Government as it prepares the wider Planning Bill, enable opt-in pilot schemes around the country so that they can be tried and tested before the Government decides whether to roll it out more widely.
Bob Blackman MP, who sits on the Housing Communities and Local Government Committee, has explained in Conservative Home why wary voters and Conservative MPs may want to back this policy as an alternative means of building homes, but with local consent. Last week’s Economist also discussed how policies like this could overcome difficulties that otherwise exist in planning.
The full list of endorsements is here.
Rosie Pearson of the Community Planning Alliance said:
The Community Planning Alliance has over 500 local campaign groups mapped. We seek to give communities across the UK a greater say in the planning system. There needs to be a dramatic shift from planning which is done to residents by councils and developers to community participation whereby residents shape the future of the area. We therefore welcome any resident-led approach like this that puts communities in the driving seat.
Tony Burton, community campaigner and neighbourhood planning expert, said:
Experience shows that quality planning decisions depend on quality community engagement and people having a direct say in the future of their streets and open spaces. This has been at the heart of the success of neighbourhood planning over the last decade and this report is a timely reminder of the potential to extend community rights even further. A planning system with local communities driving decisions can do much more to improve the quality of new building in our towns and cities and protect the countryside and green spaces.
Peter Eversden MBE, Chairman, London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies, said:
The ‘street votes’ approach advocated in this report offers a community-led route to suburban densification that could overcome much of the opposition sparked by developer-led initiatives. I welcome the report, and would be very interested to see trials of these ideas at sufficient scale to test them thoroughly.